VOICES OF: Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly,
Crispin Glover, Martin Landau, Christopher Plummer, John C. Reilly, Fred
2009, 79 Minutes, Directed by:
Acker’s 9 could be easily praised as a visionary fantasy film, using
lavish CG environments to conjure an alternate reality of robotic monsters and
misguided heroism. It’s a gorgeous film. However, it’s not always the most
convincing motion picture.
Expanded from Acker’s celebrated 2005 short film,
9 feels unnaturally fleshed out and over-thought, dampening the excitement
through extensive padding, making a concept that was once based in mystery feel
exaggerated beyond its natural comfort level.
It’s captivating eye candy, but
something of a dramatic spinout.
In an unnamed place and time, a
Scientist (voiced by Alan Oppenheimer) has created a series of tiny rag
doll-like creatures to carry on after humanity has wiped itself out. The
creatures, known as the Stitchpunks, have fashioned a community for themselves,
under the rule of 1 (Christopher Plummer). When 9 (Elijah Wood), hidden away
from view, awakens and befriends 2 (Martin Landau), the curious creature finds a
treacherous world where machines prowl the terrain in search of a special
When 2 is dragged away by one of the robotic hunters, 9 sets out to
retrieve him, upsetting 1, who warns of great danger ahead. With the help of his
numbered brethren (including Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, and Crispin
Glover), 9 enters the great unknown, stumbling upon the talisman, which
unleashes a horror the Stitchpunks have never encountered before.
The Stitchpunks are miniature
creations, burlap sack beings with camera iris eyes and a giant brass zipper
running across their belly, which opens to find untold accessories and abilities
revealed throughout the film. Director Acker knows these creatures intimately,
constructing a post-apocalyptic wasteland of peril for the tiny adventurers that
takes advantage of their size and mysterious origin.
"It's stuck between astounding visual accomplishment
and storytelling inertia . . ."
Acker’s enthusiasm is perhaps
the film’s greatest fault and most compelling element; it’s a picture stuck
between astounding visual accomplishment and storytelling inertia, hoping to
convey a striking parade of oddity, only to repeatedly lose its sense of
Building from the mould of his
short film, Acker comes across as a kid in a candy store, indulging his every
Stitchpunk whim while executive producers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov
carefully guard his back. 9 piles on fantasy invention by the ton,
playing fast and loose with the rules of the world to create a sense of
nail-biting tension out of a production design that draws from the worlds of
steampunk and graphic novels (its nearest comparison would be the actioner
The Mutant Chronicles).
Acker drops the viewer into
the middle of the movie, preventing a normal acclimation period that would
enhance the awe. Instead 9 tears off into confusion, the audience forced to
identify with 9 as he charges full-steam into danger he doesn’t fully
comprehend. It’s a disorientating approach that severs any emotional
concentration, preferring to wow the eyes with fantastical sights rather than
hit the heart with more deeply felt motivation.
Those attending the film for
visual delights will not be disappointed. 9 has special moments of
spongy CG intensity that separates the picture from the normal routine of cutesy
characters and blunted hazard (parents beware, this is violent film that also
includes a few moments with strobe effects).
Acker captures an interesting mix
of the bizarre and otherworldly, but he’s also working on a tight schedule of
conventional theatrics, issuing an action sequence about every 10 minutes to
keep the energy level generously squeezed. The repetition grows old, even for a
70-minute-long film, smothering 9 with noise when the time could’ve been just as
easily allocated to some much needed stupefaction.
To its credit, 9 is an
original vision and well aware of its peculiarity. However, it’s a flawed film
with a fractured execution, burdened with a resolution that reaches cloyingly
for the heavens. 9 shocks but never stuns, exerting tremendous effort on a tale
I doubt few will savor after the film ends.
- Brian Orndorf